Owning a gun comes with some key legal responsibilities and keeping it safely locked away is one of them. Here's what you need to know.

I have recently acquired my shotgun certificate and become the owner of a Silver Pigeon shotgun. I have set up a gun cabinet in my home according to the law but I was wondering about gun cabinet keys. Where should I keep the main set and the spare set? What are the legal obligations?

Also I was wondering what would happen to my gun when I die? What should I have in place?

A cautionary tale about gun cabinet keys

On Sunday August 10 1997 a police officer called at the house of Mr Mark Farrer. He wanted to inspect his firearms security. Mr Farrer was not at home. His mother, then in her 80s, who did not hold a certificate, fetched the officer the key and allowed him access to the gun cabinet. The Chief Constable then declined to renew Mr Farrer’s certificate because he had allowed an unauthorised person access to his guns. He appealed. The case reached the Court of Appeal, presided over by the then Lord Chief Justice, Lord Bingham. The court agreed with the Chief Constable.

  • Only the certificate owner should have access
  • No unauthorised person should be able to open your gun cabinet
  • Unauthorised people should not have access to the keys of the cabinet
  • You cannot tell a non-certificate holding partner where the keys are
  • Keep your gun cabinet keys on you or in a keysafe with a fingerprint lock
  • Breaching these conditions is a criminal offence
gun cabinet

Your gun cabinet should be secured to an inner wall of your house

Don’t ‘hide’ keys in drawers

BASC says:  “You should ensure you keep the keys to the cabinet in a place where they can’t be found easily. Remember that you are responsible for the security of the guns, and letting people who do not have a certificate (including family members) know where the keys are is not taking reasonable precautions to ensure that they don’t have access to the guns. Criminals are aware of the habit of “hiding” keys in a drawer, so think carefully about the hiding place. It would be sensible to consider changing that hiding place from time to time. Another option is to put the keys into a small combination safe – for which only you have the combination. Another option is a gun safe with a combination lock. Equal care should be taken to prevent anyone else knowing the access codes.”

If you happen to have a safety deposit box or similar arrangement with your bank it might be worth putting the spare set of keys to the safe in there.

What happens in the event of the certificate holder’s death?

  • The certificate holder should allow for this by giving the executor of their will a sealed envelope with a letter containing information about the security cabinet and its key.
  • The envelope should be clearly marked “Not to be opened until after I die or become mentally incapacitated”.
  • A temporary permit may be granted to your executor or to one of your relatives by the chief constable (acting as the chief firearms licensing officer), which would enable the permit holder to dispose of your firearms.
  • He must do this in accordance with the terms of your will.